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Where is Global MPA Coverage Concentrated?

photo: TraceyJennings / Ocean Image Bank

By Beth Pike | May 7, 2024

The distribution of the current global network of large MPAs is not representative, with nearly a quarter of largest MPAs and over a third of fully and highly protected area in the Eastern Indo-Pacific Realm.

The Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), adopted by Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in December 2022, includes Target 3, the “30x30” target. In addition to quantity, the target also calls for marine protection to be ecologically representative and equitably governed.

The largest 100 MPAs reported to the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) are largely located in coastal and continental shelf waters that fall within the MEOW biogeographic classification. A recent report analyzing the distribution of the 100 largest MPAs in the Marine Ecoregions of the World (MEOW) biogeographic classification provides a glimpse into how ecologically representative the current global network of MPAs is.

Most MEOW realms (10 of 12) include some amount of fully and highly protected area; however, only two realms, the Eastern Indo-Pacific and Southern Ocean, include over 10% fully and highly protected area coverage. These two realms contain over half (57.1%) of the fully and highly protected area within the largest 100 MPAs.

As seen in Pike et al. 2024: https://doi.org/10.1111/conl.13020

This lack of ecosystem representativity is in part because some nations have designated large, highly protected MPAs in their overseas or remote territories. In this study, we highlight eleven countries that have significant portions of their EEZ area in remote, distant waters (areas where the EEZ was discontinuous from the primary EEZ or where a land mass beyond the EEZ extends the EEZ well beyond 200 nm from the coastline).

We found that 62.4% of assessed fully or highly protected area is in distant EEZs.

Opportunistic protection far from population centers has enabled the safeguarding of large swaths of the ocean that are rich, relatively intact ecosystems. Yet the focus on remote areas to achieve targets risks diverting focus and resources away from urban coastal areas in ecoregions where human activities are more intensive, needs for ocean-based resources for food and livelihoods can be highest, and where restricting harmful human impact becomes more challenging. Moreover, many of the islands where nations have designated large, remote MPAs are home to Indigenous Peoples with diverse political relationships to their respective colonizing countries, thus this study illustrates the need to ensure fair, diverse, and equitable representation and inclusion in marine conservation decision.

The eleven countries below have significant portions of their EEZ area in remote, distant waters (areas where the EEZ was discontinuous from the primary EEZ or where a land mass beyond the EEZ extends the EEZ well beyond 200 nm from the coastline).

The last 15 years has seen an explosion of ocean protections — from less than 1% to over 8%. Yet, our analysis shows many are either poorly designed or enforced, and often in the overseas territories of powerful countries, raising questions of justice and habitat representation. This should be seen as progress, but provides a sobering reminder that moving forward leaders need to (1) focus on creating equitable networks of protected areas, (2) containing different habitat types along a spectrum of protection levels, that are (3) adequately staffed and funded."

- Angelo Villagomez

Center for American Progress

Click on a country's flag to explore the data.